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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Insights From Rupert Spira On Non-Duality And Art

If we look deeply into the causes of isolation, fear, despair, misery, their cause can be traced back to the belief and feeling that consciousness is personal and limited. When consciousness is for a moment relieved of this self-imposed limitation, it experiences its own unlimited nature; and beauty, love and intelligence are expressions of this experience. It is from such an experience, therefore, that the root cause of suffering is undermined. For this reason I would say that beauty is not only relevant in our culture, but that it is essential. In fact I would go further and say that the more injustice, inequality and suffering in a culture, the more need there is for truly creative artists, for people who are sensitive to the universality of consciousness and who are able to express something of its majesty in form. Ultimately no words can describe this because all words are conceptual, and we are talking about direct experience. That is why it is so important to make beautiful things. In fact, the more conceptual and abstract a culture’s notion of reality, the more important it becomes to have good artists.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

New Horizons

I am very taken with Paul Hedderman's view of Mind and realization. At some point I hope to work with him in forging a functional link between the non-duality he is sharing and art music as it may now begin to manifest in the West. The catalyst and the catalyzed . . . without a catalyzer. Which for me, in my non-non-humble non-opinion, is where the whole thing has effectively been taking us, by way of the long march of classical music in its thousand-year journey. Classical music, the sadhana of the West: esoteric music as the handmaid of and antidote to exoteric religion.

It is time for art music to move from time to the timeless. From theistic to non-theistic energy. In the wake of the Twilight of the Idols, how else can it be? After the great inconoclastic eruptions and the ensuing dark nights of the past century, is this not the moment? What more need be said? What more need be seen through? What more need be done? It is already here. Music's destiny is to sing - and to be - the victory song of that consummate non-dual freedom. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Illusory Guest

In the beginning of ritual, ego is host. At the end of a primordial ritual, ego is seen to be the illusory guest, subsumed to the celestial realities. In this lies the difference between modern – especially behavioral – psychologies, and traditional magic and alchemy. For in nearly all modern psychological models, the ego is given a preeminent place – the goal is not transcendence, but merely establishing a kind of balance in which ego is always host.

- Arthur Versluis

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Walking In Circles

Being in India provided ample opportunities to literally walk a sacred path. I've written elsewhere about the various counterparts to walking the labyrinth, in particular the Hindu and Buddhist ritual practice of circumambulating temples, shrines, stupas and natural formations. The Sanskrit name for this is Pradakshina. The letter ‘Pra’ stands for removal of all kinds of sins, ‘da’ stands for fulfilling the desires, ‘kshi’ stands for freedom from future births, ‘na’ stands for giving deliverance through Jnana. Giri Pradashina refers to circumambulating a hill, which is the central devotional focus in Tiruvannamalai, where on the full moon of every month pilgrims from far and wide come together to walk the 14 km. clockwise path around mount Arunachala, which is considered the embodiment of Shiva.

Arunachala is virtually synonymous with the great sage Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, whose ashram is close by. One devotee of Ramana describes his experience this way:

Such, however, was my indolence and also perhaps to some extent my supercilious sense of superior wisdom which counts mental worship enough without such physical austerities as walking about eight miles barefoot, that even after coming to live in the Asrham as a permanent inmate, I did not go round the hill as most others did. Nevertheless, from all I had seen and heard, I felt there must be something really significant in this Pradakshina. So I often plied Bhagavan with questions as to whether it is important to take this trouble. The following is the gist of what I was told as the result of my conversation with Bhagavan on this subject.

'For everybody it is good to make circuit of the hill. It does not even matter whether one has faith in this Pradakshina or not, just as fire will burn all who touch it whether they believe it will or not, so the hill will do good to all those who go round it.' Once he said to me : 'Why are you so concerned with all these questions about the efficacy of going round the hill? Whatever else you may or may not get, you will at least have the benefit of the physical exercise.'

Bhagavan thought this at least would be clear to my dull intellect. On another occasion he said to me: “Go round the hill once. You will see that it will attract you. I had also seen that whoever came and told Bhagavan he was starting on Pradakshina, however old or infirm he might be, Bhagavan never even in a single case discouraged the idea, but at the most remarked : 'You can go slowly.'

I am now as confirmed a believer in Giri Pradakashina as any other devotee of Bhagavan, though I regulate the frequency of my circumambulations with due regard to my age, health and strength and the strain to which they can reasonably be put.

I had the good fortune while in north India to be able to visit the sacred Buddhist sites of Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Nalanda. Pradakshina was performed by pilgrims from all Buddhist sects and nations around the Mahabodhi Temple, 

which is the site of the famed Bodhi Tree, under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. 

At Sarnath, where the first sermon was preached, Buddhists from around the world gather to circumambulate the enormous Dharma Chakra Stupa.

After attaining enlightenment at Bodhgaya, the Buddha went to Sarnath; and it was here that he preached his first discourse in the deer park to set in motion the 'Wheel of the Dharma.' It is one of the most holy sites as in this place the stream of the Buddha's teaching first flowed. 

At this place, the Buddha encountered the five men who had been his companions of earlier austerities. On meeting the enlightened one, all they saw was an ordinary man; they mocked his well-nourished appearance. 'Here comes the mendicant Gautama,' they said, 'who has turned away from asceticism. He is certainly not worth of our respect.' When they reminded him of his former vows, the Buddha replied, 'Austerities only confuse the mind. In the exhaustion and mental stupor to which they lead, one can no longer understand the ordinary things of life, still less the truth that lies beyond the senses. I have given up extreme of either luxury or asceticism. I have discovered the Middle Way.' Hearing this the five ascetics became the Buddha's first disciples. 
‘moving around a sacred object for a good cause’.
‘moving around a sacred object for a good cause’.
‘moving around a sacred object for a good cause’.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Letter From Chennai

A fabulous experience of Carnatic music in Chennai last December and January at the Madras Music Season. What impressed in particular was the seriousness with which this traditional music is taken in south India. It truly is a living art, in a way that, at least in North America, Western classical music struggles with. In the Maris Hotel where I stayed, across from the Madras Academy of Music, there was even an in-house one-day music festival on Christmas.

It featured seasoned veterans, as well as young players who were most impressive, some of whom were representatives from the Indian diaspora in North America, Australia and elsewhere. There seemed to be an endless supply of highly accomplished performers on tap for an intensive festival of some six weeks. Is every second person in Chennai a musician? The Music Academy was the focus of much of the activity, but there was also a wealth of performances at sabdas elsewhere in the city, which offered a synesthetic blend of music and  exquisite south Indian cuisine. A feast for the senses and the spirit.

What struck me after experiencing many hours of live performance was the effect the music had on the psyche. Even though Carnatic music is focused on the human voice in an improvisational context, there is no implicit self-aggrandizement in the music making. It seemed the performers were tapping into something prior to all that, something ancient and primordial, something imbued with the spirit and wisdom of the Vedas. Truly devotional music, and not simply because Krishna and Shiva were being invoked. In the West, liturgical music's embrace of secular operatic conventions beginning with Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart and on into the 19th century, aroused considerable concern from ecclesiastical authority. In the Catholic Church the denouement came with the 1903 Motu Proprio of Pope Pius X on Sacred Music, a line in the sand in the face of perceived breaches of protocol. Yet typically, Bach above all mysteriously transcends and transmutes any such caveats.

The East/West divide is evident in the technical aspects of each tradition's music as well. To wax metaphysical for a moment, the drones in Indian music represent for me Brahman, pure awareness, Big Mind, that which is immutable and timeless. Within this formlessness the forms of the various ragas and talas appear and then disappear, the way ephemeral thoughts, feelings and sense perceptions do within immutable consciousness. Impermanence. There is not a sense of trying to 'get somewhere' other than where we are in the moment. In contrast, the Western ethos is all about forceful strategies for the attainment of some teleological omega point somewhere in the future. Indian music adorns the moment; Western music tends to weaponize it and use it as a means to an end. Yet, in tacit recognition of the glorious futility of such a trajectory, common practice classical music does at least begin and end in the same key and customarily on the same chord. Going nowhere, ultimately, but faster, louder, and more strenuously. Sojourning further from home through incrementally remote modulations and dissonances. Evidently the archetypal prodigal son project  Western music needed. But having taken the arduous journey and returned home, we are commensurately changed. Changed in the recognition that the journey was not from 'there' to 'here,' but from here to here. The West's yang and the East's yin. Coming to the same place. In the third millennium, perhaps the implications of that are about to be understood.


Letter From Tiruvannamalai

While in Tiruvannamalai in Tamilnadu, south India, last January, I was intent on exploring the sacred sites that abound there. The most important being mount Arunachala, which is considered the embodiment of Shiva. Tiru is also where the great saint Ramana Maharshi lived and where his ashram is located. At the ashram of another saint, Ram Surat Kumar, there was a kind of side chapel that had paintings along the wall of the great teachers and avatars, such as Buddha, Jesus, Vivekananda, J. Krishnamurti, etc. And then there was the painting in colour seen below of a fellow in the altogether who is smoking...something. Immediately I was intrigued. 

Turns out this was Sri Jyothi Mouna Nirvana Swami. A silent sage who refused to wear clothes and smoked cigarettes with abandon. When devotees visited some reputed saints of Tamilnadu like Yogi Ram Surat Kumar of Tiruvannamalai and Swami Gnanananda Giri of Tirukoilur they would direct their devotees to come to this Brahmavid-Varishtha, saying that he was an Ocean of grace in comparison with whom they were only waves. In the West such a one would be known to police, institutionalized and heavily sedated. In India he was revered as a great being. In the West we like our religious figures - and artists - to be Ivy League and properly credentialed. Tenure material. India has always had other ideas.

Part of my motivation for visiting Tiru was to meet with Salvadore Poe. I had seen him interviewed by Rick Archer on Buddha At The Gas Pump,  which hosts encounters with"ordinary" spiritually awakening people. I was impressed with the radical nature of what he was sharing and the down-to-earth, unaffected way he presented it.

I had read Sal's book Liberation Is and was subsequently in touch with him by email to inquire about meeting in India. We met, and he led me through what he calls inquiries. Quite simply, what his work is about is the end of the spiritual search. The end of seeking. I think it's fair to say that the spiritual search is not for everyone, and for very few at that. To be sure, even fewer spiritual seekers are willing to see it through to the end. As Sal points out, the long search is romantic, exotic, with ever more books to read, gurus to meet, temples to be awed by - and, alas, ever more subtle ways of feeling superior, special - and separate. Spiritual materialism, in other words. As he says, it takes a mature mind to see through all of that. If it remains at the level of a hobby, then perhaps best not to get involved with it. Unfinished business of this nature tends to haunt one.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Are You Ready To Lose Your World?

There is a very famous poem written by the third patriarch of Zen, Seng-ts’an, called the Hsin-Hsin Ming, which translates as Verses in Faith Mind. In this poem Seng-ts’an writes these lines: “Do not seek the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.”  This is a reversal of the way most people go about trying to realize absolute truth. Most people seek truth, but Seng-ts’an is saying not to seek truth. This sounds very strange indeed. How will you find truth if you don’t seek it? How will you find happiness if you do not seek it? How will you find God if you do not seek God?  Everyone seems to be seeking something. In spirituality seeking is highly honored and respected, and here comes Seng-ts’an saying not to seek.

The reason Seng-ts’an is saying not to seek is because truth, or reality, is not something objective. Truth is not something “out there.” It is not something you will find as an object of perception or as a temporal experience. Reality is neither inside of you nor outside of you. Both “outside” and “inside” are not getting to the point. They both miss the mark because outside and inside are conceptual constructs with no inherent reality. They are simply abstract points of reference. Even words like “you,” or “me,” or “I,” are nothing more than conceptual points of reference existing only in the mind. Such concepts may have a practical value in daily life, but when assumed to be true they distort perception and create a virtual reality, or what in the East is called the world of samsara.

Seng-ts’an was a wily old Zen master. He viewed things through the eye of enlightenment and was intimately aware of how the conditioned mind fools itself into false pursuits and blind alleys. He knew that seeking truth, or reality, is as silly as a dog thinking that it must chase its tail in order to attain its tail. The dog already has full possession of its tail from the very beginning. Besides, once the dog grasps his tail, he will have to let go of it in order to function. So even if you were to find the truth through grasping, you will have to let it go at some point in order to function. But even so, any truth that is attained through grasping is not the real truth because such a truth would be an object and therefore not real to begin with.

In order to seek, you must first have an idea, ideal, or an image, what it is you are seeking. That idea may not even be very conscious or clear but it must be there in order for you to seek. Being an idea it cannot be real. That’s why Seng-ts’an says “only cease to cherish opinions.” By opinions he means ideas, ideals, beliefs, and images, as well as personal opinions. This sounds easy but it is rarely as easy as it seems. Seng-ts’an is not saying you should never have a thought in your head, he is saying not to cherish the thoughts in your head. To cherish implies an emotional attachment and holding on to. When you cherish something, you place value on it because you think that it is real or because it defines who you think you are. This cherishing of thoughts and opinions is what the false self thrives on. It is what the false self is made of. When you realize that none of your ideas about truth are real, it is quite a shock to your system. It is an unexpected blow to the seeker and the seeking.

The task of any useful spiritual practice is therefore to dismantle cherishing the thoughts, opinions, and ideas that make up the false self, the self that is seeking. This is the true task of both meditation and inquiry. Through meditation we can come to see that the only thing that makes us suffer is our own mind. Sitting quietly reveals the mind to be nothing but conditioned thinking spontaneously arising within awareness. Through cherishing this thinking, through taking it to be real and relevant, we create internal images of self and others and the world. Then we live in these images as if they were real. To be caught within these images is to live in an illusory virtual reality.

Through observing the illusory nature of thought without resisting it, we can begin to question and inquire into the underlying belief structures that support it. These belief structures are what form our emotional attachments to the false self and the world our minds create.

This is why I sometimes ask people, “Are you ready to lose your world?” Because true awakening will not fit into the world as you imagine it or the self you imagine yourself to be. Reality is not something that you integrate into your personal view of things. Reality is life without your distorting stories, ideas, and beliefs. It is perfect unity free of all reference points, with nowhere to stand and nothing to grab hold of. It has never been spoken, never been written, never been imagined. It is not hidden, but in plain view. Cease to cherish opinions and it stands before your very eyes. 

- Adyashanti